100 Themes Challenge, Minot Edition: #5
THEME: 5. "Unbreakable"
STORYLINE: D Is For Damien storyline, Minot spinoff series, untitled/unwritten story (post-Magic City (unwritten novel))
RATING: R (adult language, adult themes, violence)
WORD COUNT: 4000+ words
SUMMARY: The theme here, "Unbreakable," is being used metaphorically. I've been mulling over this theme for ages but only this one scene would keep coming to mind no matter how hard I pondered. The backstory is this: Stan Brooks is the longtime boyfriend of Det. Chance Devetko (Det. Max Kristeva's partner at the Minot Police Department). Kristeva unwittingly introduced the two, then set them up on a date, without Dev knowing at first. Dev was not too pleased to be set up on a date without his own permission but out of courtesy went along with it. The resulting dinner was a little awkward, but Brooks (who pretty much pressured Kris into setting the two of them up) was INCREDIBLY patient and persistent and finally wore down Devetko's reservations until the two became inseparable. Brooks and Devetko, BTW, I believe are the first steady gay couple I ever wrote, and to this day are one of the most stable relationships I've created so far. Anyway, one day Brooks answers a knock at his door (he and Dev still live separately at the time) and is confronted by his old ex-boyfriend, Will (last name never given). An altercation ensues; Will ends up sexually assaulting Brooks before departing. Brooks attempts calling Dev at work, but loses his nerve; instead he tosses the sheets in the hamper, his clothes in the washer, and takes the first scalding shower of many. A few days pass before Devetko and Kristeva show up to see if he's all right as he hasn't been in touch. Brooks attempts putting their minds at ease with some feeble lies (see "Random Scene 3," elsewhere among my writings), but Kristeva, himself a survivor of sexual abuse, sees through them and finally deduces what happened. Brooks later on reveals that he and Will in fact have a long and bitter history and their entire relationship was horrifically abusive; this most recent assault is actually not the first. Long story short, and the rest of the details here are a bit iffier, but Will ends up going on trial for rape; while out on bail or something, he stops by Brooks's apartment (Brooks, assuming it's Devetko, lets him in) and starts beating and threatening him, but Dev then arrives in the middle of things, followed by Kristeva, and (probably after taking a few choice hits from an infuriated Dev) Will is taken back into custody. He eventually ends up found guilty and is sent to prison, the end. However, that doesn't mean the end of Brooks's nightmares, and not only his nightmares but, even worse, his fear that Devetko will end up leaving him now that he knows his past. The theme of this scene, "Unbreakable," makes it clear that his fears are unfounded, and their relationship can withstand a lot more than he thinks.
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"You think you can just shut the door on me--? You think you can sic your fucking cop friend on me, and I'll just roll over and let it happen--? You think I'm that stupid--?"
Brooks furrowed his brow. Somewhere, on some level, he knew he was asleep--that the words echoing in his head had already been said, quite a while ago, that the one who'd said them was safely behind bars, he'd even stood up and spoken to him in court before he was taken away, he had no reason to be afraid of him anymore--but the voice echoed in his head and his heart started hammering in his throat again nonetheless. Some part of him knew this was just a dream, but he'd never been a lucid dreamer, so it just kept playing out like it did every other night.
His dream-self was swinging the door shut, or at least trying to, and not succeeding because an arm shot through and blocked it from closing. The two of them stared right into each other's eyes, inches apart, the cracked-open door the only thing between them. Then it was shoved open so abruptly he stumbled backwards and nearly fell, toppling the standing lamp instead. The sound of it smacking against the floor was earshattering. He attempted to regain his footing; Will was standing before him now, fists clenched and teeth bared, his eyes livid--if Brooks had had to estimate, he'd have guessed that was the look in his eyes at least 80% of the time of their relationship, and for the millionth time he wondered what he'd ever seen in him.
Will opened his mouth and said exactly what Brooks had known he would say--"You honestly think I'm gonna sit and rot in some cage because you're just some scared little pussy who can't take what you deserve--? You were always too stuck up for your own good, you know that?"
And Brooks opened his mouth and said exactly what he'd known he would say--"Get out, Will! This time I fucking mean it! If you don't--"
"You'll what--?" And Will did exactly what Brooks had known he'd do, he lunged forward before the question could be answered; this moment, this second Brooks had played over in his head a million times. He knew he shouldn't have addressed him, shouldn't have warned him, should have just gone for his phone, or swung with his fist, or done one of a hundred other things except warn him. The same as he could have looked out the peephole before opening the door, or kept the latch in place, or, or, or...just as with the last time Will had shown up unexpectedly at his apartment, he thought over every single little thing he could have, should have done differently, yet hadn't. Will had apparently learned his lesson, somewhat, and knew that this time Brooks meant it. Which was why he lunged, rather than continue to argue. He shoved Brooks backward so hard he nearly fell, but instead his back slammed against the opposite wall, knocking the breath from him, just as he'd expected. Then Will's fist met his face, just as he'd expected. He expected to feel a twinge of relief when he was punched the second time, because as long as Will was punching him, he couldn't be doing anything else. After the last time, getting punched was nothing, he could take it. But he also knew that punching could be followed by something else, so he couldn't exactly just stand there and take it. He ducked his head and jerked aside, just as he'd expected to do, and then let out a wheeze when Will's fist met his stomach, and he doubled over, just as he'd expected to do.
If he expected all these things then how come they kept happening, and they kept happening the exact same way--?
"You have any idea how you fucking humiliated me--?" Will shouted, fists still swinging; a well-aimed punch--but weren't all of them well aimed, hadn't Will always been good at hitting his target?--spun Brooks's head to the side when he tried to look up. "All because you could never learn to just take what you fucking deserve! You know I remember now why I dumped your fucking ass--? You were never worth all the trouble you gave me--!"
Brooks put out an arm to brace himself against the wall. Self-defense. He knew how to defend himself, he wasn't stupid, he wasn't weak, so why he could just never seem to hold his own against Will, he couldn't understand. Just like he couldn't understand why he was still being punched, because he remembered how this went, he remembered that right after he managed to push himself away from the wall and try to make a run for the phone, Will had tripped him, and he'd hit the floor--that was right, that was exactly what happened right now, he landed hard on his elbows and grimaced at the electric bolts of pain that shot up his arms--and then he'd been kicked, he was sure Will intended to get him in the head but he'd moved just in time to get hit in the shoulder instead though he still ended up sprawling over on his back--and then that was when he'd dimly heard another noise from the direction of his door, a loud noise, and then suddenly the attack stopped, Will was going backwards with a startled exclamation, Brooks hadn't been able to understand what was happening until someone came into sight at Will's side--Kristeva?--what was he doing there?--and what was happening to Will?--but then Kristeva had glanced briefly at him, opened his mouth to ask a question, then changed his mind and turned back to Will and then suddenly Will was on the floor and Devetko was practically crushing his face against the parquet--Brooks had never seen such a look on Devetko's face, he looked almost like Will, he couldn't believe it--and then, wonder of wonders, Kristeva was the one pulling Devetko off Will, ordering him to step back before he messed things up, he'd take care of it himself, check on Brooks, and Devetko had dropped down beside him to see to him and the look on his face was so worried, guilty, even, that Brooks knew everything would be all right then.
Only for some reason it wasn't playing out as it had really happened. He hit the floor, Will kicked him, and then he was kicked and hit and dragged to his feet and hit again, and nobody came to the door, and then Will put him in a chokehold and started dragging him along just as he had the first time and Brooks started gasping and fighting against him to no avail just like the first time. This wasn't right. This wasn't right at all. Where was Max? Where was Chance?
"What's the matter?" Will snarled in his ear as he struggled to breathe. "Your cop buddies not showing up when you need 'em? Funny, you were so mouthy before. You've always been too fucking mouthy. Learning your lesson yet? Or do I have to pull out the big guns--?"
He let out a harsh laugh. Brooks knew exactly what he meant by big guns. He gouged his fingernails into Will's arm but it was as if his ex didn't even feel it; he just kept laughing, and it was even harder to breathe, it felt like he was being smothered, and no matter how much he kicked at the floor it felt like his legs were tangled, restrained, how had Will managed that?--why couldn't he even move or breathe or do anything--?
Brooks managed to suck in a ragged breath. "Chance--?" he wanted to cry, but couldn't find his voice. He clawed Will even harder and kicked even harder; Will must have let go of his neck, for he felt his shoulder being grasped instead, and started fighting against it, trying to break free and follow Devetko's voice, wherever he was. He pulled one arm loose and swung; it connected with something, but then his wrist was grabbed, and at last he let out a sharp yell.
"Stan! Wake up!"
The grip on his wrist tightened. Brooks opened his mouth and sucked in a breath to scream--he raised his other arm, felt it restrained as well, and then, abruptly, his eyes shot open and he found himself staring into Devetko's face. Devetko's eyes were wide; Brooks noticed that he was the one holding him by the wrists, and his breath whooshed out of him in a gust. He cast a quick glance around, confused, the nightmare receding into the corners of his mind like shadows banished by sunlight; he was sitting up in bed, Devetko beside and leaning over him a little, and the sheets were tangled around his legs so he couldn't kick them. What he'd thought was a warm trickle of blood from Will's beating running down his face was merely sweat; his clothes were sticky with it.
He took a ragged breath, let it back out; then his tensed muscles relaxed and he sank back slightly, Devetko's grip on his arms loosening. He pulled one free and placed his hand to his head, blinking groggily, the adrenaline wearing off.
"You all right?" Devetko asked. When Brooks peered at him he saw the concern there, no annoyance or frustration or anything. He nodded slowly, rubbing his forehead.
"Y...yeah...yeah, I guess." He made a face. "Just...you know."
Devetko hesitated for a few seconds, then seemed to relax, himself, letting out a small breath and nodding. He let go of Brooks's other wrist. "You want me to get you a drink or something? Some water?"
"Yeah...that'd be good. Thanks."
Devetko turned from him, flinging the sheets off his own legs and leaving the bed. He disappeared into the bathroom. Brooks made another face and continued rubbing his forehead, trying to will away the awful feelings still surging through him. As if the nightmare wasn't bad enough, he hated inflicting it on Devetko so many times, when he knew he had to get up early and be at work all day helping Kristeva investigate missing people and whatnot; he hardly needed the added stress of all this. Brooks could never express enough gratitude for the company but all the same, he felt perhaps he should grant Devetko some space, stop clinging to him, let him head back to his own apartment and get some decent sleep for a change. He dreaded the thought of waking up alone, feared it more than anything, but if that was the only way to keep this working...
By the time Devetko reappeared with a glass full of water and sat down beside him again, offering it, Brooks had managed to slow his hammering heartbeat and get his breathing back to normal, though his head was pounding for some reason, and he felt jittery. He accepted the glass and took a long drink, then was surprised when Devetko offered him a couple of aspirin as well; he swallowed them with the next drink, unsure how he knew he'd needed them.
"Feeling any better yet?" Devetko asked.
Brooks nodded. "Yeah...just...same old." He made a face, then peered at Devetko with some embarrassment. "Sorry."
Devetko blinked, then shook his head. "What--? No. It was just a nightmare, is all. Not like you can control it."
"I know, but...still. I know you have to be at work in like a few more hours..."
"Don't bother thinking about it. I just want to know you're okay."
"I am, I will be. Whenever." This last word came out without him even thinking about it; he noticed the flicker of uncertainty that passed over Devetko's face and fought back a grimace. "Look..." he said, steeling himself by taking a breath; when Devetko stayed silent, he lifted his head and made himself meet his eyes. "I'm sorry...I keep waking you up like this. That I keep putting you through this. I know you have so much other shit to deal with. No, hear me out, please?" he cut himself off, when Devetko began shaking his head. "I know what you're going to say...that it's nothing...but it's something, it really is. It's been, Christ, I can't even count how many months now and I just keep dreaming this same stupid thing, and waking you up, and I'm sick of it."
"Stan," Devetko said. "This is normal. There's nothing you can do but go through it. It starts to wear down, eventually."
"I know. But how eventually? I know--this kind've thing can take years," he said, when Devetko opened his mouth to answer the rhetorical question. "And I accept that. But...that doesn't mean you have to accept it." He paused; Devetko had shut his mouth now, and his brow furrowed just slightly. Brooks bit the inside of his cheek. "What I'm saying...what I'm saying is, I can't stand to just keep putting you through all this," he murmured. "And for years...the thought just..." He trailed off and had to take a steadying breath. "What I'm saying is, you've helped me out so much, so much more than you'll ever know, I know I never would've made it through all this without you. But I can't stand the thought of what I'm putting you through in return. I understand if...if you need to head back to your place to get some decent rest for a change. I understand if you...if you need to, you know, take a break, or something."
He could barely get out the words take a break; they almost died in his throat, he almost lost his voice and his nerve. Did his voice crack, even, when he said that? He hoped not. He tried hard to sound casual, like it was no big deal, even though saying the words made his heart feel like it was dying inside him. Now that he thought about it he had no idea what he was going to do once Devetko was gone. He'd only planned to offer to let him head back to his own apartment for some sleep, not to offer to let him out of the relationship completely, but now that he thought about it that was probably what was best for him. For Devetko. As for himself, he hadn't considered what his course of action would be. He suddenly realized he couldn't even imagine any sort of life without Devetko in it. It was just too foreign a concept. As soon as Devetko was gone, he literally felt he'd have no more life, and the realization would have made him feel utterly dead inside, if only his heart weren't hurting so much squeezing in on itself.
There was a long silence. Devetko didn't answer him, and Brooks busied himself taking another drink. The pounding in his head had moved back to his chest. He felt literally like his heart would stop the moment Devetko was out the door, because it would have no more rational reason to continue to beat. He surreptitiously took a few more steadying breaths so his voice wouldn't crack again when Devetko should answer him. Just go along with it, he told himself, because you're the one who offered him this way out in the first place, you should expect what you get.
When Devetko finally spoke, he did so very quietly, but the breaking of the silence was so sudden Brooks nearly jumped.
"Are you saying you want me to go?"
It was hardly a question. Brooks had to take another breath since his heart felt like it imploded in an instant. He shook his head abruptly.
"No...of course not." He felt like slapping himself; why had he said that? That would just make him feel obligated to stay. He took another drink and couldn't believe just how royally he was messing this up.
"Then what are you saying?" A brief pause, then, "Could you look at me, Stan?"
Brooks flinched, then made himself look up. Devetko met his eyes without any hesitation, but he could only look back for a second or so before averting his own and swirling the water in its glass. He felt like a total ass now, but there was hardly any backing out.
"I'm sick of putting you through this," he said under his breath, half hoping he wouldn't be heard.
"You're not putting me through anything I can't handle."
"I know that. But I hate it anyway. I told myself...I told myself, when you didn't--when you didn't just...you know...walk out...after finding out all this about Will and everything...I told myself I'd make it up to you."
A note of confusion entered Devetko's voice; he knew him well enough to imagine the corresponding look on his face. "What would you possibly have to make up to me?"
"Putting you through all this! I know you could do without it. That you could do better. I know you weren't signing on for all this baggage. That's why I never told you in the first place. I figured when I met you it didn't matter anyway, it was ancient history, something I could just forget ever happened. I realize that's a stupid thing to think but I almost actually did it, you know?" A brief glance up, then back down. "That was how good things were. You almost made me forget him. I would've told you, if I'd've imagined in a million years that he'd come back, but I just figured I would never have to and that was better. Now...this." He shrugged. "I told myself I'd do better once this was all over. I'd get over it, I'd get over him, wipe the slate, just start over like I did before. I did it once, I could do it again. But...I don't know. I don't understand why it's not working out that way. He's gone, and I've got everything I could possibly need or want, so why I can't just move past it I don't understand. I know you're going to say that's normal and maybe it is but for you it's not normal and I can't stand putting you through this night after night. I guess...I guess my offer still stands." He made himself meet Devetko's eyes again and could tell that he knew what he meant by "offer," but just to make sure, made himself say the words anyway. "After the first time," he murmured. "After he first showed up. When I had to tell you and Max...I understand you never would've wanted any of this. If you want to go, you can. A clean break. I'd never hold it against you. I just...I want whatever it is that you want. Whatever it is that would make you happy."
Another long silence. When they met each other's eyes again, Devetko's responding look was vaguely reproachful; Brooks lowered his head like a chastised puppy.
"So are you saying you want me to go?"
"That's not what I'm saying, Chance, you know it."
"I've already told you where I stand. Why you can't believe me, I don't know."
"You can't possibly be happy like this."
"You're right. I'm not." The unexpected words stabbed straight through Brooks's heart; he had to glance at Devetko to make sure he'd heard him right. The reproachful look hadn't gone away; if they hadn't both been sitting on the bed, he'd almost have expected him to be crossing his arms and tapping his foot or something. The disbelief and confusion must have shown on Brooks's face for Devetko spoke up again. "I'm not happy that you keep thinking that somehow this must mean I'm going to want to just walk out the door. That you think I give up like that. That you don't know me better by now. You're right, I'm not happy about all this and everything else. But it's not you who has me pissed off. It's him. He's the reason behind all this. The reason you can barely even look at me right now without looking like you expect me to do the exact same shit he did." Brooks made himself peer up at him once more and the look on his face still hadn't changed, but now he started to dimly realize that it wasn't aimed at him after all. And he thought maybe he saw something behind the reproach, something that looked like hurt, and that perplexed him. "I'm not happy that you keep blaming yourself for all this when the only person who needs to be blamed for any of this is him. You're a better person than that, Stan. Quit giving him the benefit of the doubt, and start letting up on yourself. I'm not going anywhere. So I lose some sleep. Big deal. You know that if I had to sit here wide awake for a week straight, if it meant it'd finally convince you I'm not going anywhere and that he's the only person you have any right to be pissed off with right now, I'd do it? Without even thinking. If you ask me to do that right now, I'll do it. But if you keep thinking I'm going to break this off because of some asshole who's finally getting what he deserves, some asshole who's seriously not even worth a second thought, then you're going to be waiting a long time. You're going to get through this at some point, even if it takes twenty years, and whenever that happens you're still going to have to deal with me. You think this is persistent, then you don't know me yet. I can wait this out. But I won't have to, because I'm still going to be here when you wake up whether you ever get over it or not." Brooks was staring at him openly now, not quite able to believe everything he'd just heard. Devetko gave him a few seconds to process this, then said, "So--are you saying you want me to go? Because if that's what you truly want, then I'll do it, but you have to say so yourself."
They both stared at each other in silence. Brooks still couldn't completely believe what he'd just heard--it was all too much, too much to ask for or expect, but he hadn't asked for or expected it, Devetko had offered it without hesitation. He felt his eyes start to sting and his vision began to go blurry. He didn't dare blink.
"I just want things back the way they were before," he whispered.
He received no immediate response. Devetko's face blurred together and broke apart before him and he had to shut his eyes, feeling too stupid to open them again as soon as he felt the tears stream down his face. He almost started; he felt a hand on his cheek, and tried not to let his breath hitch, though he was unsuccessful.
"I can't give you that," Devetko murmured. "But I can be here as long as you need me. However long it takes. Even if you never do move past it. However long you need me to."
Brooks tried hard to control his breathing and to force the tears to stop, but they wouldn't, and he knew that if he opened his eyes they'd only start pouring out all the harder. He sucked in a breath and it was woefully shaky; the pressure of Devetko's hand on his face grew a little, and he gave up trying, emptying his lungs in a shuddery rush of air.
"I want you to stay."
He hated how pathetic his voice sounded, almost pleading, far too desperate, nothing like the way he'd been before this. But suddenly he realized it didn't matter. Devetko pulled his hand away, but then Brooks felt his arms go around him, and he held him in return, probably too tightly though that didn't matter either, and buried his face against Devetko's shoulder. He shuddered and cried silently and nearly spilled the half-empty glass he still held but for the first time that night, the first time in months, he didn't care about it, didn't bother to feel guilty or stupid or foolish, just let the tears come out and let Devetko hold him until exhaustion finally overtook him.